Thursday, June 10th, 2021

Closed by virus, senior center reopens

By William Kincaid

Jeanette Golden plays bingo on Wednesday at the Mercer County Council on Aging's. . .

CELINA - She never thought the day would come but on Monday, the Mercer County Council on Aging's senior center reopened its doors to in-person activities and events for the first time in more than a year.
Seniors returned to the comfortable, familiar setting of the senior center on Monday for a chair yoga session and Tuesday for bingo. The center had been closed since March 16, 2020, due the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's exciting. It's almost like back to school for us, I guess you would say," said MCCoA Executive Director Sharon Green. "I just want to make sure people know that this is a safe place to be, that they're welcome, because we still do have some seniors who are (reluctant) to go out. They still have some fear of COVID and we want them to know that we're doing everything we can to make sure that they stay healthy when they're on our premises."
The senior center now opens its doors 30 minutes before planned activities. Participants must sign into the My Senior Center database and answer a series of health questions pertaining to COVID-19.
Those who have been inoculated against COVID-19 are not required to wear masks while those that haven't yet been vaccinated must wear a face covering.
"We're starting slow and I'm hoping by the end of August it will be like we never even closed," Green said. "We're working up to arts classes. We're looking at perhaps adding a book club, some more things where people can kind of sit and a be a little more social than they've been able to."
They're still working on bringing back senior meals but have resumed bridge, euchre, pinochle and sheephead card games. They're also brainstorming new pursuits to attract those who have recently gained senior status.
"That's one of the things we're talking about - what kinds of new programming can we start to offer?" Green asked. "It's almost like we're starting from ground zero."
Roughly 35 seniors showed up for bingo on Tuesday.
Nancy Penno of Coldwater said she spent a lot of time assembling puzzles amid the pandemic. She was asked what she missed most during the lockdown.
"Just people. Just being at home all the time is annoying," she said. "My husband passed away five years ago so it's really nice to have people to talk to."
Penno said she's come to the center for the last 15 to 20 years.
"My husband and I, we went to the exercise place. We played cards a lot, two or three times a week," she said.
Socialization is indeed essential for good health, Green told the newspaper.
"For any of us, but particularly for our aging population, being isolated can contribute to cognitive decline," Green pointed out. "It impacts your overall health and well-being if you are not being social with people, having that interaction."
For instance, people who settle into a routine of plopping down in a chair and zoning out in front of the TV may start to see their health go downhill quickly, she said.
During the early days of the pandemic, staff tried to keep seniors connected via social media. However, in a rural community such as this, not everyone has access to the internet. Also, some people are reluctant to embrace new technology.
That's when staff moved to enhancing the monthly newsletter with puzzles, games and challenges.
Jeanette Golden of Celina was delighted to return to the center for bingo action on Tuesday.
"I'm happy about it. I like bingo and I really missed it a lot so here I am," she told the newspaper.
She too has frequented the senior center for many years.
"I'm not a card player but I like the activities they have at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I just enjoy being with people," she said.
Sadly, though, three of the bingo players Golden normally surrounds herself were missing on Tuesday. One had since died since the last round of bingo while another is in a hospital, she pointed out.
Golden's predicament underscores a stark and sobering now reality faced by seniors and staff alike: Some of the once familiar, smiling regulars didn't make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We lost several to the disease but we also lost several (whose) health declined from being isolated and either moved in with family or had to go into longterm care facilities," Green said. "Our landscape is looking different."
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